Saturday, September 27, 2014

Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1:18-25 The Birth of Jesus

"Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear  a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”  which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus."  Matthew 1:18-25

After telling us that salvation history has played out despite man's efforts or his fighting against such efforts, we see that a loving God will not be deterred in saving His wayward children.  How He does it is spectacular: a wonderful thing we call the Incarnation!  The second person of the Trinity purposely becomes a human being as well.  He is born of young woman betrothed to a man whom God has chosen to give the duty of protector and provider to this new born Son.  The son in question does not belong to Joseph.  This son is not of mere human stock.  He can't be.  This Son bridges a gap that is necessitated to be bridged because of man's rebellion.  Man turned his back on God by choosing to be his own god.  Man, being immortal, broke faith with that which is eternal.  Whatever bridges this man made gap must be able to represent both parties: he must be human for it was humanity that had created the rift; he had to divine as only that which is divine can bridge a rift with the eternal.  What love God must have in surrendering His Son to a sinful people!  He knows this Son will suffer at their hands, but will willingly give Himself for their sake; His act of love will re-establish the relationship with God and rebuild the bridge to eternal life.

Joseph, we are told, is a just man.  He loves Mary.  We might well imagine the betrayal he feels when he finds his bride pregnant and knows it cannot be his.  Instead of acting in fury and indignation and exposing her to the law and its death penalty for adultery, he decides to divorce her quietly.  He could seek revenge, but he does not.  God chose well, did he not?  But God is not going to leave Joseph in the dark.  After Mary of course, he is the first to find out about who this child is.  Two names are mentioned:  Emmanuel (God is with us) and Jesus (God saved).  These tell us what God's plan is.  He so desires a relationship with us that if saving us through the gift of His Son is necessary, then so be it.  Any doubts Joseph have evaporate and he does as instructed.  Joseph is willing to risk whatever plans he had laid out for his life with Mary and surrenders them to a plan he knows will be greater.  As the story unfolds, we will Joseph have to give up more, but what happens is far greater than he could ever imagine.

If we were to truly understand God's love for us and how His plans might just so much greater for us and those around us, we might mimic the trust of St. Joseph and lay our lives, our futures, and our paths into His hands.  Do we do this?  Do we teach our children to do this? No vocation can be found without such an open disposition.  Pray, St Joseph, that the followers of your adopted Son might find the trust you did,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1:1-17

"1a The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.*
2b Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.c 3Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.d Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4e Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5f Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, 6g Jesse the father of David the king.

There are many people who are into genealogy. I am not one of them.  I know my grandparents and some of my great grandparents, I know something of the various nations and tribes from which they came.  As far as seeing if I am the long lost relative of ...I don't know...Brosleus III of Lesser Angltopia doesn't interest me. Maybe it should.  Where we come from speaks to our family history and its struggles and triumphs.  St. Matthew's Gospel begins with a genealogy.  Remember, we are not talking about a mere biography, but a proclamation of Good News.  Why begin here? 

The answer is the concept of something we call salvation history.  Salvation history is the story of God's interaction with humanity from its very beginnings.  Salvation history tells a story of a God who simply refused to write off a creation that turned on Him.  He time and again makes covenants with that fallen humanity.  The covenants center on a mutual relationship: "I will be your God, you will be my people."  His people did not always prove themselves responsible partners in this relationship.  Nonetheless, he keeps calling them back.

Jesus is called the "Son of David, the son of Abraham".  This is telling.  As son of David, the great King, he is a fulfillment of a promise that one of his heirs would rule the house of Israel forever.  As son of Abraham, he is the fulfillment of the promise of how a great nation would spring forth from him.  Right off the bat, in Matthew, we are told that this Jesus is the fulfillment of a promise made by a loving God.  He keeps His promise not because of Israel's faithful cooperation or because of their power, but because He loves them, regardless of how far they wander.  Keep in mind that this lineage from Abraham has been enslaved in Egypt ( God saves them), conquered the Promised Land, then was constantly plagued by troublesome neighbors during the time of the Judges, given a brief high time under the rule of Saul, David, and Solomon, descended into division, was conquered by empires time and again, and was again a conquered people under the Romans of Jesus' time. There are names of just men and horrific sinners and apostates in this list of names.  Through all the highs and lows, times of faithfulness and far greater times of infidelity, God refuses to write these people off.  He simply loves humans too much to destroy them.

Jesus comes as a promise to be fulfilled by a loving Father.  Even as he chastises bad behavior, it is always with an eye towards their redemption.  The Gospel story cannot be understood outside of understanding that God's primary disposition to us is love.

So what?  Well, God reveals Himself to us not merely to show us who He is, not merely to invite us into relationship, but to show us something of what we who enter into relationship are called to be.  As God is, we are called to be.  This means that if God's basic disposition to us is that of love and seeking our good, then if we be sons and daughters of such a God, we too must have that same disposition towards ourselves and those around us.  It is all too often that we write people off as beneath us, not worth our time, effort, and resources, and as being beyond our willingness to show compassion and mercy.  Too much time is spent in finding ways to justify neglect, revenge, and division.  One moment spent in such endeavors is far too much time.  If we are to expect to understand who Jesus is and the relationship He calls us to, we must start from the vantage point of desiring mercy and compassion and desiring to extend mercy and compassion to others.  The whole of who Jesus is becomes clear from these  seemingly innocuous verses of a genealogy.  To enter into a relationship with this Jesus necessitates us to start from here as well.

 

Getting to Know Jesus: Introduction


Last spring I started reading Sherry Weddell's book, "Forming Intentional Disciples".  I had seen it repeatedly quoted in Scott Hahn's new book on evangeliztion.  It was also recommended to me by my spiritual director.  For the better part of a two decades as a priest, I have tried to figure out how to most effective in not just preaching and teaching the Gospel, the entirety of the Scriptures, and Church teaching, but also wanting to create those who embraced the continual conversion these writings call for us to engage with in ourselves.  I tried various things.  Some worked and some didn't. In fact, some spectacularly bombed.  It hit me that I was going about this wrong.  I was teaching about something and not introducing them to a relationship.  There is a big difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone.  Knowing about someone might lead to a relationship; knowing them will make that much more likely.

Why relationship?  Why is knowing about not enough?  God doesn't use the terminology of the classroom predominantly. He predominantly uses relationship terms, specifically familial ones.  This relationship has a look based on how God has revealed Himself.  We call this divine revelation.  God reveals Himself as our limited brains can understand that which is not limited to time and space.  He does this because He wants us to share in His life.  He leaves a record of that divine revelation in the Scriptures.  The height of that revelation comes through Jesus Christ. We have four Gospels that want to tell us who Jesus is.  They are not designed to be a biography or be a historical record as we would see in history books.  The Gospels are much more interested in telling who Jesus is so that we might know Him.

I decided to take a suggestion from Forming Intentional Disciples and focus on a Gospel, going verse by verse, with these questions dominating the class:  Who is Jesus?  What motivates Him?  What type of person is He?  This isn't a psychological study.  I believe if we understand who calls us into a relationship, we might be more understanding and trustful.  My goal isn't for people to just get to know Jesus, but to fall in love with Him and to realize that he loves us.  We have been going through the Gospel of Matthew after our weekend Masses (can you believe about 1/4 of the parish stays!?).  I also teach 7th/8th grade religion and we begin each class with going verse by verse of the Gospel of Matthew.

I am not a biblical scholar.  While I use the scholarly works available to me in disseminating the Gospel, I use much more prayer in preparation.  What I aim to do over the next several months is to go through that same Gospel on this blog...verse by verse, chapter by chapter.  I hope it might help especially those who doubt God or have a loose relationship at best with God and His people.  I believe that once we get to understand Jesus, we will fall in love with Him and allow Him to transform our life.  I wish to take the reader on the same journey we are going through in the parish and school.

Be aware, though, that getting to know Jesus will be unsettling at times.  It might make us question our own motivations and make us challenge behavior.  Let's be honest, though, does not any good relationship transform us (sometimes begrudgingly) for the better?  I sincerely pray that whoever reads this will come to faith, belief, and enter into the relationship for which we are eternally created.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Isaiah 5:20


"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."  Isaiah 5:20

 We live in interesting times.  Of course, that is a Chinese curse.  We live in a time of dysfunction, confusion, anger, greed, and terror unlike the world has ever seen.  Each age had its plagues, wars, and divisions, but never before have we had it in such bulk and with such an overabundance of images and words.  Deep in the collective human soul there is a trouble and an accompanying fury.  Objective truth has been cast aside for the tyranny of personal opinion.  People troll for their perceived enemies to write or say anything for which they stand in accusation.  A great darkness has enveloped society.  Our institutions groan and heave under the weight of their own malice and injustice.  Morality has collapsed under the strain of relativism.  What was right is now wrong in the  society in which we live...good has become evil.  Any divergent opinions are met with the tenacity of a rabid wolverine.  Discussion and debate have grown into a cacophony of divergent opinions and bitter monologues screaming over top each other to win the day.  Darkness encroaches.

Sounds grim, no?  Why bother then?  Why not just do a AC/DC singalong humming Highway to Hell?  Why not?  We shouldn't just yet pack up for the zombie apocalypse just yet.  In fact, now is far from the time for fear and doubt.  We have been here before.  We know the crash comes.  All empires collapse.  All persecutors fall to the dustbin of history.  There is nothing we are experiencing that has not happened before.  It is time to turn the ship into the wave.  We who believe know who wins the war even when the battles seemingly turn ugly.  How then do we turn the ship into the wave?

1. Faith first!  In Matthew 7:24-27, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his listeners that there choice to listen to Him or not is akin to building your home on rock or sand.  When disaster strikes, the house built on rock endures while the house built on sand fails.  What is the center of our life?  Money?  Career? Pleasure?  Honor? Power?  All of this can and will be taken from each of us as life progresses.  What happens if the economy collapses?  What then of money and career?  What if the government collapses? What if we descend into another war?   What if we were to fall into a debilitating disease? What if an accident were to happen?  The person who faith first puts its practice first.  That means more than attending a church service.  It means being a person who just, merciful, kind, peaceful, content with what they have, compassionate, and other centered.  Faith is the one thing we possess that cannot be taken from us, it must be surrendered.  A person of faith responds differently than one who doesn't.  Saying I am a person of faith is useless if one's disposition and choices do not back that up.

2. Embrace simplicity.  Dave Ramsey likes to say that we have a habit of spending money we don't have on things we don't need to impress people we don't like.  Too often we find status and reputation in belongings.  So many are in over their heads in debt.  We store stuff in storage spaces because we do not have enough space in our homes..stuff we will probably not use again.  We waste immense amounts of items and food.  We consume far too much.  We see over consumption as a status enhancer.  Faith, though, tells us to live simply and within our means.  Simple doesn't mean living in squalor.  It means that possession of items and the ability to make the money necessary to accrue them cannot come at the cost of primary duties to family and God.  We must stop connecting happiness to possessions.  We must know the difference between luxury and necessity.

3. Love people, not things.  We need to be looking out for each others good.  We need to be searching out the unfulfilled needs of others; be it friendship, food, clothing, knowledge, compassion...these should concern us more than material goods of worldly status.  For we who call ourselves Christians (and what a shame when we don't actually live like Christians), the teachings of Christ demand as much.

4. Seek to heal wounds, not create new ones.  We cannot forge ahead united if we keep attacking each other or keep picking at the scabs of old wounds.  It saddens me every time I see some 'Catholic" ideologue attack his or her fellow Catholics in the public forum acting as if they were the true arbiter of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, or justice sent to save the day.  Do you know what happens when an army attacks itself?  It loses!  It weakens itself to where it is ineffective.  Do you know what happens when an enemy sees the opposing army attacking itself?!  It emboldens them to attack with greater fervor!  While we are slicing and dicing each other on church building styles, music, and such...the enemy strikes harder at picking off the morally weaker.  This goes for our personal life as well! To what positive end do we carry our grudges?  To what positive end do we anxiously await the word or phrase that will offend me and give just cause to attack?  To what positive and Godly end is our aligning to ideological sides?  The enemy gather his forces as we squabble and squander our energy fighting with each other.  A house divided will fall.  that is true for our marriages, our families, our parishes, and our society.  Notice how those in power keep digging at division with the determination of a gold miner!  We can't give into this.  I would suggest limiting our time to the media that keeps stoking these fires for the sake of ratings.

5. Remember the only commandment that Christ gave us: Love one another!  He didn't say love another only if a person agrees with you 100%.  He didn't say love another person only if they are your ideological consort.  In fact he tells us to love all...even our enemies.  Nothing so disarms violence like compassion.  Nothing so changes hearts as being shown love when it is undeserved.  This is not pie in the sky hopeless optimism...it is the command of Christ.

If we hope to weather the encroaching storm, it will be binding as one with our God and with one another.  We are not necessarily on any highway to hell...but how we respond to this world will tell us if we be on said highway or on that narrow path to heaven.  We cannot call good evil...we cannot justify sin.  Those who do will perish.  None of us should wish that fate on anyone.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Finding Triumph...the right way!


There is something within the human person that wants to succeed.  Most everyone wants things better and hates feeling helpless to change the trajectory of their life.  In fact, when we feel that helplessness, oftentimes depression, envy, and wrath follow.  The human spirit, by its nature, wants to triumph.  We want to win.  We want to have the wherewithal to rise to the best life has to offer.  This is not a bad thing.  I believe that God places these desires in us to help to strive to be all that He has created us to be.

    Many times, though, we judge success in merely humanistic terms: financial wealth, good heath, the esteem of our peers, and a world without limitations.  As Americans, we have a deep seated belief that should we apply ourselves as hard as possible, that success should be guaranteed.  Nowadays, many believe that success and triumph should be guaranteed with little to no effort…that success and triumphed are owed to us.  There are large segments of society that believe success and all that goes with it are entitlements of which they are cheated should they not get it.  When success and triumph are measured in such humanistic terms, they are bound to failure.  Yet we are geared toward success…so what gives?!

    More often than not, health, wealth, esteem, and such are byproducts of living a good life…not that which causes a good life.  I will go one step more:  should happiness in our lives be even dependant upon such things?  The Scriptures would say not.  By worldly standards, Jesus is an utter failure: he dies a violent death on trumped up charges, he dies dirt poor, what few people he had following him betray him, deny him, or simply run away, what little he does have (the clothes on his back) are also taken from him as he is exposed naked and bleeding to death as sport for his enemies to gloat upon.  Jesus is not exactly fodder for the cover of Forbes magazine.  Yet, He changed the world and changed the course of our eternal life!  We know that the story doesn’t end on Good Friday.  We know that Easter Sunday comes as well! 
   
    This weekend we celebrate the Triumph of the Cross.  In the time of Jesus, this would have been considered utter madness!  The cross would have been considered a cause of great shame and agony…a place of defeat.  Christ, though, wins His eternal battle on a cross…a battle over Satan, sin, and ultimately death.  No amount of taunting, torment, or shame can rob Jesus of this!  Triumph comes not from a  conquering for one’s own gain; it comes from conquering for the sake of others.  There is no true triumph were there is no death to self.  Remember, Jesus repeatedly says that those unwilling to take up there cross cannot follow Him!  Unless we move away from a selfish ’me first’ mentality, we will never understand what true triumph is nor know the peace of mind that comes with it.  Perhaps that is why no accumulation of worldly goods, pleasure, power, or honor ever seem to be enough.  We seek triumph where it is not to be found.  That which drives us to triumph will never be sated by that which can never sate it.

    How then do we know if we are seeking triumph where it not going to ever be found?  The clearest place to see this is our attitude.  Am I unhappy, fearful, resentful, or envious?  Those are solid signs that something is wrong and needs to desperately change.  Many times we wait for outside sources to change, hinging our actions on theirs.  This is a copout!  Bad things happen to the good and the bad just as good things do.  Both the good and bad have to deal with sickness, death, disappointments, betrayals, and suffering.  These will happen.  God desires to be with us in all of this, both the good and bad.  He wants us to triumph.  However, no triumph can be had until I am willing let go of those feelings of anger, envy, bitterness, and such.  These things obscure my ability to see the good and right path; they rob me of joy and peace in the midst of the greatest struggles.  I think so many times when we cry out to God in distress, He might well respond with “Well, quit hitting yourself with a sledge hammer!”  Christ already hammered those sins to the Cross…how about letting them die there?!  There is no need to carry this iron laden baggage.  Christ, however, will take from us what we are unwilling to hand over.  This baggage prevents our triumph.

    How, then, do we change this?  How do I get rid of the bitterness, anger, envy, and resentment?  The first step is the hardest: getting the focus of my life off of the person I see in the mirror.  All of these things need a sense of self-centeredness to thrive.  If I dwell on I am put out, cheated, maligned, hated, and such, it becomes sure recipe for perpetual bitterness and resentment.  Let us look to Christ on the Cross.  Because He was pouring Himself out for the good of others, He endures with patience and grace everything thrown at Him.  Did He deserve the scorn, hate, and mocking He got?  No.  Did He deserve the pain, torture, and sadism He received? No.  Remember, He is the Son of God as well as human being…at a thought, He could have wiped out all his enemies and exacted revenge on His persecutors.  Rather he prays for them as He says, “Father, forgive them, they know what they do.”  Even though those around Him count themselves as His enemies, He doesn’t see them as such.  Nor does He treat them as such.  Imagine, if you will, what freedom would come from taking such an attitude! 

    Second, we must get away from the idea that anyone owes me anything.  St Paul reminds us in Romans to owe no one anything other than to love them.  It will be very hard for me to get worked up about being cheated if I am not engaging is such behavior. Furthermore, we have to acknowledge that as we are owed nothing, that we must use wisdom and prudence in how we negotiate life.  How many of the pickles we find ourselves in are monsters of our own creation?  How much of our problems are more because of our own poor choices and their consequences?  It is not other peoples’ faults if the consequences of my choices come home to roost!  It is not God’s fault!  It is mine.  Consequently I can reap the consequences of good choices (you know, cooperating with God’s will?) like chastity, honesty, diligence, humility, simplicity, and selflessness.  Good choices, though, do require some embrace of the Cross by which we die to self.  Thankfully, God gives us the grace to endure these little deaths if we should so choose to do it.

    Third, we must take these sins to confession and allow the healing grace of God to bind these wounds and heal them.  We cannot expect to be made whole if we are unwilling to that which is necessary to make it so.  It doesn’t matter how the wounds got there.  It doesn’t matter whose fault is that I became bitter and resentful…it must be dealt with or it will eventually lead to our death by a spiritual septic shock.   

    Our triumph as people of faith came from the loving willingness of the Son of God to leave the safety of heaven, become one of us, and offer that life on a Cross for our good and eternal happiness.  Christ triumphs.  Can we imagine that somehow we can find victory and triumph in any other way?  I would imagine so many are weary of the bitterness and anger.  They tire of living with resentment.  We know that these things prevent us from success and stymie triumph.  Should we actually want triumph we need to make better choices, use the wisdom and grace God gives us to make the hard decisions that will help us find peace in the storms of life.  None of this can happen as long as we resent, are envious, bitter, and angry.  God is all too willing to unshackle us from these chains (His Son even died on the Cross so they could come undone).  It might take a strength we think we don’t think we have and unlearning destructive patterns of behavior and replacing them with life giving patterns.  Triumph is never easy.  Never.  God is willing to give all we need to achieve that victory…but we must choose to do so.

Do Catholics Need a Personal Relationship with God?

Yes.  In a word, yes.  Okay, that was short.  Many Catholics, however, would sternly debate such a notion.  Many would say that this is a protestant idea.  Not so.  I will explain.
    Over the years of study and spiritual reading I have done, the call for a personal relationship is spoken of in very powerful language in the Scriptures, the writings of Church Fathers and Doctors such as St. Augustine, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (to name a few), through Church documents including the Councils of Trent and Vatican II, to the modern day writings of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  “Personal relationship” is probably too ambiguous a term though.  People hear this and think that it means we have God as a buddy or pal; that it is a relationship of equals.  Many bristle at this and so they should.  Many try to have this kind of a relationship with God and find it wanting.  To be clear, when the Church and the Scriptures speak of a personal relationship, this is not what they are talking about.
    So what is meant?  Perhaps a better term would be that we are called to have a familial relationship with Jesus and with the Trinity.  I hope we would agree that the relationships in our lives that are the most personal are those we have with family.  The New Testament shows us time and again this.  Jesus is revealed as the Son.  He reveals the 1st Person of the Trinity as ’Father’ and “Abba”.  Jesus likens the relationship we are called to have with the Father as that of a trusting child to a loving father.  How much more personal can you get?  He calls all who do His will His “mother, brothers and sisters.”  In this same spirit, St. Paul and the other writers of the Epistles predominantly use the term ’brothers and sisters’ to explain our interrelationship and St. Paul refers to us as the adopted sons and daughters of God; a spirit of adoption given through THE Son, Jesus Christ.  It does not get any more personal than this.
    So why do a majority of Church-going Catholics not believe that one must have a personal relationship with God in order to be a good Catholic?  I would guess for numerous reasons.  First, it is not talked about very much overtly.  The language used in Mass can be commonplace enough as to be unnoticed, homilies usually do not use such language for fear of sounding too this or that, and other factors of the same sort.  Second, the language was adopted by Protestantism and many Catholics think it is therefore a Protestant teaching.  It is not.  The writings of the saints through the ages and the very Scriptures themselves would attest to this.  Third, it is a product of a society that grows more and more divided and isolated.  Fourth, it is human nature.  Human nature has a tendency to judge the worth of anything by what it can do for me with the least amount of effort.  This isn’t because we are lazy, but because we are so over taxed with our time, energy, and resources.  Anything that might call for us to change behavior is seen as just a greater imposition of our dwindling time and energy.  It is why people are slow to, if not rebellious against,  the need to alter eating and exercise habits, even when their health is dwindling.  Human beings can be creatures of habits even when those habits are harming them.
    Allow me then to make a case for why investing ourselves in a relationship with God and His people is to our betterment.  Jesus Himself told us, “Come to me ALL you are burdened and I will give you rest.”  Nurturing a relationship with God and His people reminds us that we are not meant to go it alone.  Ideally, we are to find comfort in this relationship and allow God to help us bear the weight of our lives.  We are also to find in our fellow Christians companions who through mutual love and respect find a band of brothers and sisters who are there for each other in times good and bad.  In an isolated society where it is easy to hide behind the relative anonymity of a tweet, Facebook post, text, and such…knowing that not only are we not alone, but that others want to be with us is greatly comforting.  I know it is my own feeling ( a feeling I know is shared by many others) that I tire of the divisions that seem to thrive in this society and are looking for any outlet through which to explode.  What happened in Ferguson is a good example.  What is happening in the Middle East is also a good example.  Like many, I do not feel the necessity to walk this life alone.  That is good thing considering the teachings and offer of Christ.
    The catch is that like all good relationship, it will require change.  That is hard.  It is hard to change patterns of behaviors, even if we recognize that these patterns are toxic in our lives.  It is easy to allow these to spiral out of control.  The devil will always be there to tell us that either we cannot or do not need to break free from these behaviors. Being listless and helpless are bad places to be.  These behaviors are not things we have to turn around before entering into a relationship with God and His people; to turn these behaviors around will require that relationship with God and the support of our brothers and sisters!  God will give us the grace to do these things should we decide to do so.  We should be supporting one another in progressing in good. 
    To support one another, of course, means we have to talk to one another and help without waiting to be asked.  Catholics and small parishes can very cliquish.  The parish in Corinth was.  That cliquishness required St Paul to write two letters to them to remind them of just how inappropriate that was as followers of Christ.  Pope St. Clement had to write them as well.  St. James had to write another community because of their cliquishness. So any cliquishness that we feel in this parish is nothing new, it has been with us since the beginning of the Church.  However, just as St. Paul, St. James, and St Clement wanted such things out of the Body of Christ, so must we.  Cliquishness is inherently sinful…cliques divide what Christ came to unite!  Cliques obscure, if not entirely block, many from seeking a relationship with God because the human face present in the parish doesn’t point to such a relationship.  I just want to be clear that cliquishness is by no means exclusive to either any single parish or the Catholic Church (quite the opposite is true), but that the cliquishness harms us and drives people away.  We cannot hold on to cliques and seek a deep relationship with God at the same time.
    This is one of the things I would really like for us to work on with the grace of God this year.  Parishes become the face of the relationship we are suppose to have with God.  It is why God kept calling for the People of Israel to be His people who would be a light to the nations.  It is why Jesus reminds us that we as His followers are to a light, salt, a city set on a hill, and his witnesses to the ends of the earth.  It is why the Eucharist is at the very center of who we are! I know people in this parish who feel isolated, they tell me.  It is easy to say that if only they more outgoing that they would find warmth, but it is not Christlike to wait for someone to come to us.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus kept meeting people where they were at so as to lift them up. Hence, let us pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be the kind of parish that Christ Himself wants…a parish that will give witness to the life altering relationship that Christ comes to give us.  We are called to be a family, not a clique.  Let us cooperate with God’s grace to this end!
   

Friday, November 1, 2013

Where is the fire?

The ancients saw fire as one of the 4 basic elements of the created order.  Fire is transformative, purgative, and alters whatever it touches. It is fearsome; it destroys one order in favor of a new.  We use this basic element to describe more than physical fire.  We use it to talk about zeal and passion.  We tell fans of a team to 'fire up'.  When we speak about burning with something, we mean that we have something that so consumes us as to change everything about us and want to spread that to others.  Without fire there can be no heat nor light.  Without it, their is only anonymity, bitter cold, and death. Anything devoid of a fire from within  will simply peter out to death.

The world understands this concept.  It stokes fires to rage for its own concepts.  Sports teams, political parties, Hollywood, the music industry, social causes, and such all know the absolute necessity for stoking these flames.  The see the value of rallying their fans and supporters with a zeal, passion, and willingness to do anything to show their connection to the cause.  They will come up with slogans to rally around, concepts to defend, and worlds to conquer.  In the hands of good, this can be a wonderful thing.  In the hands of evil, it is horrific.  There is a tell tale sign between the two, regardless of the cause,  one seeks to lift up all humanity, the other seeks only the lifting up of a select group and the destruction of other groups.  All avenues of human reality can be commandeered or even hijacked to this end: religion, governance, sports, and industry.

Jesus says in Luke 12:49, "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!"  Not exactly fuzzy surfer dude Jesus there! There was a transformation to take place.  A transformation that as Simeon said to Mary about Jesus as an infant, "Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and a sign that will be opposed." (Luke 2:34)  A fire would break out that would change the course of world events, that would purify anyone brave enough to enter such a furnace.  Not all will be.  In the passage from Luke 12, He refers to how it will set family against each other.  The world was to be transformed, and how earnestly he wanted to do it.  That zeal and passion for us, the beneficiary of his actions, could not be diminished by the Cross.  His fire for us and the will of the Father, removed any trace of real fear and discouragement.  Even the moment at Gethsemane was dismissed instantaneously.  After the death, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3) and transformed the prayerful yet timid apostles into firebrands who would set out from the safety of the Upper Room across the world; braving pain, death, and persecution with a fire to transform the world for Christ.

In every day and age men and women have shared in that same zeal: the adventure and pressing demand of making known the Gospel in a very alive and transformative means.  Whether it was Jesuits who braved into the new world into hostile environments, or Archbishop Sheen braving the new medium known as TV, or the countless Catholic media companies and social media mediums in our day, there are many who bravely go out into the world and make known the message of Christ.  The fire is there...but it needs to burn more intensely.

In the book of Revelations, when the One Seated on the Throne (Christ) speaks words to the 7 Churches of Asia Minor, some are of comfort , some are of mild correction, and some are of utter disappointment.  Two churches where the fire is going out are referred to as 'dead' (Sardis) and so bland as to be vomited from one's mouth (Laodicea).  In both instances, they are to rekindle that fire.  In both cases we get the impression of self-satisfied churches assured of their own salvation that the fire to spread the word falls apart.  The Christian faith must have that fire.

So how are we?  Am I as a person on fire with the faith?  Do I have a passion to spread the Good News, to show mercy and compassion?  Do I speak of my faith? Or am I timid?  Do I allow myself to be silenced?  Silence is the deadliest of all things when it comes to faith.  I am not talking about the silence we need to put ourselves in a place for prayer.  I am talking about the silence when we hear the faith misrepresented, lied about, distorted, or dismissed.  Our silence becomes fertilizer for those who would attack the truth.  Our silence and inaction replaces the blood with formaldehyde.  Our silence tries to extinguish the fire that Christ came to set ablaze.

Fire, though, is not a merely a matter of words nor something to use by force.  We don't do conversion at the tip of a sword.  Our actions bearing true love and concern for God and for our brothers and sisters speak far more powerfully and eloquently than the most exquisite of words. That is not to say the exquisite words are unneeded, only that the fire within cannot remain only words. There MUST be a passion!  There must be a burning desire born of our own experience of the Living God that we lovingly want others to experience such joy and fulfillment!  

We do not belong to a safe faith.  We do not belong to a genteel country club where members get special privileges. Our faith is a fire--a transforming fire-- meant to change and purify to the better whatever it touches.  Passion cannot be faked.  Passion doesn't come instantaneously either.  Make a promise...pray for a passion..a burning zeal...a zeal that will not be silenced.  Express it not in the condemnation of others and their activities, but is modeling the reality of the transformative power of the fire that is Christ!  Pray for it!  Long for it!  Heaven is not a residence for the lukewarm and  the dead; it is where the fire of faith, hope, and love burn with the intensity of a thousand white hot suns.  That fire is not something we merely wait till later to get, it has to be now, because where there is no fire, there is no transformation, where there is no transformation, faith goes into atrophy and dies. Spend the time with the faith and learning the faith with the same fervor that a baseball fan follows the playoffs, hungry for every detail and desperately wanting to win.  Surely if we can spend such time and effort (and even resources) for something as eternally inconsequential as a sport, can we not spend at least the same time for that which is eternally consequential?